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Breezy Point

Local Golf
November 23, 2017

'TRAIL' Has Become The Buzz Word In Golf Marketing
RJ Smiley

The saying goes: "If you can't beat 'em join 'em!"

Golf course operators, consultants and major golf organizations have been in a frantic search for ways to generate more revenue. Facts are facts - There are fewer core golfers (golfers who play 8 or more rounds per year) and less total rounds are being played across the country. However, hardcore golfers still play the same number or more rounds per season. Most golfers in the baby boomer generation are playing more rounds because they are retired and simply have more idle time to pursue leisure activities. Fact - The majority of core golfers take two or more golf vacations per year. The golf travel segment of the business is still growing and is projected to continue to grow.

Being part of something bigger and more easily identified than a single golf course is reaching new heights. The three following golf famous areas are examples how golf courses can be marketed as a group, a destination or an area.

Myrtle Beach might have been the first to create the idea of joint marketing for an area full of golf courses. The geographic area of Myrtle Beach is about 100 miles in length, however with golf courses, resorts, hotels and restaurants contributing to the common marketing budget, it simply becomes Myrtle Beach. With one phone call (before computers and websites) golfers could receive (by snail mail) a promotional brochure to plan their golf trip. Today, golfers thinking about Myrtle Beach can choose golf courses from a website full of information on each course. They can book advanced tee times, look at restaurant menus and drill down to the exact room they want in a particular resort or hotel. Myrtle Beach has always specialized in A-Lot-Of-Bang-For-Your-Buck-Golf.

Hilton Head appeals to a different demographic crowd but uses collective marketing practices to draw vacationers to the up-scale island, with wall-to-wall golf courses and time-share units. Television made low country golf famous as millions have watched the Heritage Golf Tournament at famous Sea Pines Resort. Piggybacking on the Heritage, marketing has transformed the South Carolina Island that once was the home of runaway slaves into a golf paradise. What a job the marketing department at Hilton Head has done.

The Palm Springs area in southern California has long been known for "golf in the desert." Residents of the L.A. area flocked to the desert over a half century ago when Bob Hope and the Hollywood elite made the desert their second home. Now with over 250 golf courses, Palm Springs has become a life style with mostly private courses. There is however a growing marketing effort to bring golf visitors to the desert to fill open tee times and hopefully sell a few homes from the overbuilt housing boom.

About 30 years ago the word "TRAIL" or "GOLF TRAIL" gained traction in promoting golf and golf courses. It started when Dr. David Bronner, CEO of the Retirement Systems of Alabama, came up with the idea of building a series of outstanding golf courses to bring golf travelers and business to the state of Alabama. Bronner contracted Robert Trent Jones, Sr. to design the golf courses to be branded as the "Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail." The concept worked! One large marketing budget for a number of individual courses scattered across Alabama. The idea was to get golfers to plan a trip along the "Golf Trail" to play many courses and stay in different locations. The budget was easy to control because all courses were owned by the retirement system with huge money. Thus "TRAILS" has become the modern day golf marketing buzzword!

The Era Of The Golf Trail
With the Jones Trail, the TRAIL era began. The Jones Trail happened in the "Golf Boom Days" when most of today's golf course operators believed that all they had to do was "build a golf course and they will come."

Marketing is a copycat business. Once an idea like talking horses works, everyone is using a talking horse to sell their various products. As soon as a car company has success with a particular color, all car companies create a similar color.

Over the past fifteen years as golf has slowly contracted. Frantic golf operators have been forced to band together with their competitors to attract the golf travelers to their unique area. Local trails have benefitted Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin courses.

Brainerd Trail
The Brainerd Lakes Area has long been known as one of the best tourist areas not only in Minnesota but the entire U.S. With cooler summers and thousands of lakes the area prospered. Gull Lake in particular has been the home of huge resorts for a century. Madden's provided resort golf to its customers for years. Resort guests at nearby Cragun's and Grandview Lodge played the courses at Madden's. Then in the 1990s, Grandview's forward thinking Fred Boos brought championship golf to the Lakes area. Boos' initiative was followed quickly by the Legacy Courses at Cragun's, The Classic at Madden's, and Deacon's Lodge (owned by Breezy Point). Almost overnight the Brainerd Lakes area had become the 4th best golf destination in the world. Why? Because of the Brainerd Area Chamber and the Brainerd Trail. There were challenges to get these resort owners who for years competed for business to work together for the common good. But it happened and it worked. The Brainerd Trail is already planning a huge marketing promotion around the Ryder Cup. World golf travelers will make the short trek to Brainerd to experience this fine collection of golf courses.

Fortune Bay/Giants Ridge
With three of the finest wilderness golf courses to be found anywhere, Giants Ridge and Fortune Bay Casino have teemed up to bring golfers to the far north. Most avid Minnesota golfers make the trip to the far north every few years thanks to the constant reminder of the co-op marketing.

Wisconsin Dells
Everyone knows the Dells is known for water parks; the most waterparks in one location in the world. In addition the Dells has a wonderful collection of golf courses. These courses work together to market to the dad's and a few mom's who want to play golf while their kids are entertained at the water parks.

Lake Geneva
As Chicago area vacationland, golf in Lake Geneva was made popular when Hugh Heffner, owner of Playboy Magazine built the famous Playboy Club and golf course on the shores of Lake Geneva. Since then golf has grown and is marketed together.

The fortune made selling toilets has been reinvested in some of the best golf in America. The resume of major golf tournaments hosted by Black Wolf Run and Whistling Straits is second to none. Marketed together these courses have produced a whole new resort industry to the cheese head country along the 'big lake'.

Iowa Golf Trail
The newest member of the Trail system is the Iowa Golf Trail. Made up of 13 courses scattered across Iowa, the Iowa Golf Trail has three sections. Each of these areas encourages golfers to spend a few days playing their section of the Trail. With Iowa golf a full month ahead of Minnesota golf course openings, the Iowa Golf Trail is a perfect early spring golf experience. These courses could never get that exposure attempting to market their course alone.

Joining with competitors has helped many golf course operators survive the downturn. Better days ahead!!

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